Professor James Robertson has never known life without war, but for him it's all in the past.
Professor James Robertson has never known life without war, but for him it's all in the past. As one of the top American Civil War experts in the nation, it's hard for him not to be immersed in the war with the highest number of American casualties.
The Civil War has been a part of Robertson's life as he was born and raised in Danville, the last capital of the confederacy, which is full of Civil War history.
"I just grew up amid all that history," Robertson said. "My father was a Civil War buff. My great grandfather and great uncle were both in the war. My great uncle died. So I just grew up with it and I never left it."
His initial love for history has led him to a greater interest in the people fighting the war. Robertson is more intrigued with the contexts and the people of the battles than the actual fights themselves.
"I'm interested in the common soldiers," Robertson said. "The journals with personalities, the problems on the home front such as what the women were facing, sickness and religion. -- things of that sort appeal to me and they appeal to students. I guess my great hallmark for teaching is you can never understand and appreciate history until you understand the emotions in it and this is certainly true for the Civil War, it's a very emotional war."
Robertson feels that this appreciation for history is something that should be nurtured at an early age. To make the Civil War interesting to younger generations, he has written several books aimed at eighth graders and up. Currently, he is working as the executive producer for a nine-hour DVD on the Civil War that will be released and distributed to every classroom and library in Virginia.
Books for younger readers are not strictly Robertson's only forte -- he has also written several larger books for older audiences. One, a book titled "Soldiers Blue and Grey" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Robertson also wrote a 957-page story about the life of Stonewall Jackson titled, "Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend." It took Robertson seven years to write the book.
"I had sent a form letter to every library and depository in America to find out if they had material and there was so much material that a 375-page manuscript became 2,300 pages," Robertson said. "It's a huge book."
The book became the basis for the Warner Brothers movie "Gods and Generals," on which Robertson acted as Chief Historical Consultant.
Joe Weatherman, a sophomore history major who is in Robertson's 3055: The American Civil War class, bought the Stonewall Jackson book for his father, who is a Civil War enthusiast, and had Robertson sign it.
Weatherman enjoys Robertson's class despite the initial nervousness he felt about how he could handle covering all the material.
"I thought the tests were going to be really hard," Weatherman said, "Because he covers so much information each class and you don't really know what's going to be covered because it's all this information he's just chucking at you, but I look forward to the class. I can't wait to go to it. He leaves a cliffhanger at the end of each class you want to know what happens next."
As the semester has gone on, Weatherman learned that Robertson has his own little tricks when it comes to reminding students when something is important.
"Before our first test it was always a motion," Weatherman said. "He was like 'remember a motion.'"